Let Us Eat Cake

So many wedding traditions have long histories, and interesting origins. Bouquets, rings, and white wedding gowns… they all come from somewhere, and I’ve written about a lot of it.

Today I take on cake. Our classic tradition of serving cake for weddings comes from two different sources. First Ancient Rome – one of the prime sources of Western culture – where bread was broken over a bride’s head to bring good luck. Bread has always been a strong symbol because it signifies sustenance, and for ancient cultures that meant survival. I recently wrote about the Eastern European bread and salt ritual – a great example of that.

The Roman wedding ceremony was finalized with the bread (aka: cake) made of wheat or barley, and whatever crumbs fell were gathered up by guests as tokens of good luck. How do we know this? The Roman poet Lucretius wrote about it.

Moving closer to our own style of cake as ritual, in England and early American, we’re talking 1700’s here, cake was a sign of social status, as it was quite the luxury, and so including one in one’s wedding was prestigious. How better to celebrate than with something so special, decadent and delicious? These cakes were often fruit cakes, but iced with tiers much like the ones we see today.  Even the icing itself holds significant, being traditionally white, which for some reason was a symbol of money.

The cutting of the cake is a big deal and certainly echoes that breaking bread over the bride’s head thing.  It could represent breaking the virginity of the bride! No comment on that. It also marked the beginning of a husband’s power over his bride and meant to ensure fertility, which to be fair, meant survival. Again, this is old stuff, so we’ll just let it slide. There are other interpretations of course, such as the cake ritual simply representing good fortune in the future.

Sharing the cake (not mere crumbs) developed naturally from there, as guests hoped to cash in on all that it represented and get a slice of the rare treat. They really seemed to put a lot of faith in cake in the olden days.

As the custom moved forward over time it became just one more normal wedding tradition, but turning down a piece of wedding cake was, and sometimes still may be, just plain rude.

In 1882 the modern wedding cake was born when Prince Leopold, an English Duke, had a cake made that we would absolutely recognize today. After this, the layered cake became popular, topped with luscious dense icing and stacked in tiers.

All modern wedding things seem to have a Queen Victoria connection. She used that white icing for her cake, which became known as ‘royal icing.’ Everyone followed what Queen Victoria did, her influence was enormous. Actual pieces of Queen Victoria’s cake were on display at Windsor Castle, and a slice of cake from her daughter, Princess Louise, was even auctioned. How the heck did they preserve cake that long ago without a freezer?

It’s awesome to think about how for centuries weddings have included cake and different cultures all added their own twists to this tradition. I am not going to comment on how some couples smash cake into each other’s faces, other than to say if it is done by mutual agreement I’m ok with that.

Cake toppers are very popular and have become creative and trendy. Here in the U.S. in the 1950s we first saw the bride and groom figures on top of the cake. There are lots of variations today, from the ridiculous to the sublime. You can even have one custom made to look just like you, or even your pets. I have my parents cake topper in my home and I treasure it.

A photo of your wedding cake is a must-have!  And when we say something ‘takes the cake’ it’s quite the prize indeed.

 

THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for all the gorgeous photos. Lisa was chosen as one of the top 50 wedding photographers world-wide.

 

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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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